Dog owners are being urged to be protect their pets from a rare, but potentially fatal disease after a rise in cases was reported by an animal hospital near a town just north of London.

Leptospirosis, also known as Weil's disease, is an illness caused by bacteria that damages vital organs such as the liver and kidneys.

It can affect both humans and pets and is most commonly transferred by urine from infected animals, most commonly rats, mice, cows, pigs and dogs.

Weil's disease is most commonly transferred through urine from infected animals including rats, mice and dogs. Weil's disease is most commonly transferred through urine from infected animals including rats, mice and dogs. (Image: Getty Images)

In humans Weil's disease can cause symptoms including diarrhoea, headaches and yellowing of the skin, while it is often fatal when it comes to dogs.

Weil's disease in dogs

Davies Veterinary Specialists, located in Hitchin, speaking to The Comet said it has seen a significant increase in the number of leptospirosis (Weil's disease) cases since the pandemic.

Prior to the pandemic, the team at Davies would manage two or three cases a year, whereas now they are seeing a case nearly every month, according to the news outlet.

The ways dogs can catch Weil's disease, according to the PDSA, include:

  • Other infected dogs
  • Sniffing/licking the ground where an infected dog has urinated
  • Urine from an infected cow, pig or rodent
  • Infected wet ground or fresh water (the disease can live in wet ground and freshwater for several months)

There are vaccinations to help combat against leptospirosis bacteria in the UK (contact your local vet for more information).

Weil's disease in humans

How do you get Weil's disease (leptospirosis)

As mentioned earlier, leptospirosis is spread in the urine of infected animals and can be contracted by humans, according to the NHS, if:

  • Soil or freshwater that contains infected wee gets in your mouth, eyes or a cut
  • You touch an infected animal's blood or flesh

The NHS adds: "It's very rare to get leptospirosis from pets, other people or bites."

Weil's disease symptoms

"Most people who get leptospirosis have no symptoms, or mild flu-like symptoms," the NHS said.

But some people do get seriously ill.

Symptoms of Weil's disease (leptospirosis), according to the NHS, can include:

  • High temperature
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pain
  • Tummy ache
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Redness in the white part of your eyes
  • Yellowing of the skin or white part of the eyes (jaundice)

Rules for taking your dog on the beach

Weil's disease treatment

While severe cases of Weil's disease will need to be treated in hospital, most will be treatable by your GP. 

The NHS explains: "You'll usually be given antibiotic tablets to treat the infection. Most people recover in a few days or weeks.

"It's important to finish the course of antibiotics, even if you start to feel better."

You can also take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve any aches, pains or a high temperature, the NHS adds.

How to avoid getting Weil's disease

While Weil's disease (leptospirosis) is rare in the UK there are things you can do to double your chances of avoiding it.


These measures include:

  • Washing your hands with soap and water after handling animals or animal products
  • Cleaning any wounds as soon as possible
  • Covering any cuts and grazes with waterproof plasters
  • Wearing protective clothing if you're at risk through your job
  • Showering as soon as possible if you've been in potentially infected water
  • Checking your dog is vaccinated against leptospirosis (there is no vaccine for people)

For more information on Weil's disease (leptospirosis) visit the NHS or PDSA website.

Or if you are concerned you or your dog may have the disease contact your local GP and/or vet.